Transit Boosted Over Last Highway Law in Infrastructure Deal

  • Schumer says New York, Gateway Program would benefit
  • National vehicle miles-traveled tax pilot in bill

Funding for public transportation would see a boost from levels set by Congress in the last highway law under bipartisan infrastructure legislation proposed in the Senate.

The final text of the measure comes after the chamber cleared a second procedural hurdle Friday on the legislative vehicle for the bill, making passage of the major plank of President Joe Biden’s economic agenda likely in the Senate in the coming days. The momentum follows weeks of back-and-forth negotiations, where transit was one of the major sticking points.

The 2,702-page measure, which was unveiled Sunday, would authorize:

  • $13.4 billion in fiscal 2022 from the Highway Trust Fund’s mass transit account, increasing to $14.6 billion in fiscal 2026 — a bump from the $10.2 billion authorized for fiscal 2020 under the FAST Act (Public Law 114-94);
  • $3 billion each year from the general fund for Capital Investment Grants, an increase from the $2.3 billion annual authorization from fiscal 2016 through 2020; and
  • $206 million in grants for buses for each of the next five years, compared with $90.5 million annually for fiscal 2016 through 2020. At least 25% of the money would be directed to projects related to the acquisition of low- or no-emission buses.

The measure would also provide supplemental funding, including about $10.3 billion for transit infrastructure grants, $8 billion for Capital Investment Grants, and nearly $1.8 billion for accessibility upgrades.

New York would benefit from the boost in transit funding, said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The transit funding would advance major projects in the state, including the long-delayed Gateway Program rail tunnel connecting New York and New Jersey, Schumer said.

Photographer: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the Capitol on Tuesday.

“Whether it’s the needs of the MTA, projects like Gateway, the Second Avenue subway, the East River Tunnels, Penn Access and others, this deal represents massive investments that will rebuild and revive the Empire State’s infrastructure,” Schumer said in a statement Thursday.

Earlier: Transit Spending Pitched as Means to Boost Equity, Aid Climate

Highways, Funding

The bill also includes provisions similar to language advanced out of the Senate Environment and Public Works (S. 1931) and Commerce, Science and Transportation (S. 2016) committees earlier this year. The Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee didn’t propose or mark up a transit title for surface reauthorization.

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va), ranking member of the EPW committee, said Thursday that she worked with the bipartisan group “on text and technicalities to help merge this bill with the surface transportation bill” passed out of her committee that covered the highway reauthorization. The measure also includes supplemental spending for roads, bridges and major projects.

The Senate Finance Committee also didn’t propose or mark up a financing title for surface reauthorization. The main source of federal money for highways and transit—the gasoline tax—hasn’t increased since 1993 and its rate wouldn’t change under the bipartisan legislation. The Biden administration drew a hard line against increasing taxes on people making less than $400,000.

The Highway Trust Fund is projected to soon run out of money, but has been sustained by transfers from the Treasury’s general fund. The infrastructure bill would transfer money to the Highway Trust Fund to keep it solvent, including $90 billion for highways and $28 billion for mass transit.

Given the dwindling funding in the trust fund and the increased push toward electric vehicles, some lawmakers have called for a transition to a miles-traveled fee, instead of a gas tax. This legislation would include about $125 million over five years to pilot a national miles-traveled tax and more state fee programs with the goal “to restore and maintain the long-term solvency of the Highway Trust Fund,” the bill said.

House Hurdles Await

If the legislation passes the Senate, it still faces hurdles in the House. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, has repeatedly said that his surface transportation bill (H.R. 3684) includes policies that need to be incorporated in the final language, and has communicated that to senators and the White House.

“I’m expressing a strong desire that, should the Senate pass a bill, that we should conference that bill and work out our differences,” DeFazio said Friday.

Earlier: Key House Lawmaker Demands Conference on Infrastructure Package

Meanwhile, progressive House lawmakers continue to warn that they won’t pass the bipartisan infrastructure deal without the Senate passing a $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package.

“If there is not a reconciliation bill in the House and if the Senate does not pass a reconciliation bill, we will uphold our end of the bargain and not pass the bipartisan bill until we get all of these investments in,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on CNN Sunday.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at lbyington@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at sbabbage@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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